Jay Leno is a fan.
Aniket Vardhan’s hand-built mechanical wonder, The Musket V-twin motorcycle engine, was recently featured on Leno’s CNBC show Garage—a real feather in the cap for any gearhead. Leno is more than a famous collector with passion for driving, he knows bikes and he really knows motors. He praised the Musket’s power and smooth ride, but was most impressed with its quality and Vardhan’s attention to detail. “It’s just so nice to see it done the old-fashioned way,” Leno said. “There’s a great joy in working with your hands … it makes me realize maybe the old ways aren’t going to die out. It’s just fantastic!”
Vardhan’s dream all started with his love for a classic British motorbike, the Royal Enfield Bullet, and the guttural duggah, duggah, duggah sound of a V-twin engine. As a young man back in Delhi, India, he stumbled upon a well-to-do man kicking over a Harley-Davidson, which were rare beasts in that part of the world at the time. He knew right then he wanted to make the single-cylinder, underpowered Bullet go faster, and sound like that Harley.
“My soul wanted to ride a V-twin that kicks you in the ass and sounds awesome.”
Vardhan moved from India to the United States to earn a masters degree in industrial design at the Columbus College of Art and Design, where he eventually taught the subject. His undergrad degree in architecture was a great foundation, but as he puts it, “I was always drawn more to objects that move and were scaled to the human body, the forces of nature.”
When it comes to design and engineering, Vardhan’s ultimate goal is to “combine logic and emotion, science with art.” That started him down the road to fulfilling his motorized vision. He initially pursued his dream part-time, but after a few years, he realized that effort required more horsepower.
“I had to go all in and give it a shot or I thought, ‘I’ll never know.’”
He left academia and plunged into hands-on, greasy, noisy metalworking: his day job at the shop was to make parts for the U.S. military; his evenings, nights, weekends were motor-time.
Most mass-production motors are formed by pouring molten metal into precision-machined dies, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to manufacture. The old-school way is to use sand casting molds, the way many engines were originally made back in the 1950s. The result is a finish that has a more hand-made appearance.
“The vintage aficionado’s love that authenticity,” he said.
He started the Musket with sketches to explore mechanical solutions, eventually drawing everything precisely in a CAD program. After about 40 revisions and changes, the drawings were printed on paper and used as layout guides placed on glued-up wood blocks. He cut them out using a bandsaw and hand tools.
“It’s like a big puzzle,” he said. “I carved, filed, and sanded all the parts until they fit together precisely. It takes a lot of time and patience.”
With his completed model in hand, Vardhan sourced a local foundry to make the molds and left them in its care. Eventually the workers called and said they just weren’t suited for the job and to come get his project.
“I go there to pick it up and realized they had left my box of wooden forms by an open window,” he said. “It had rained furiously over the weekend. The patterns that I had painstakingly made over the past two years were soaked. They had swelled up and split.” Angry and disheartened, Vardhan took a few months off to recover from the loss. He finally got his mojo back and began the process all over again. Once he completed a second set of patterns he took them to a foundry in Toledo with experience in pouring motors. The molds held, and the pour was successful. Excited and energized, Vardhan came home with an aluminum puzzle to put together—his first Musket.
Vardhan’s mantra, “Do it right or don’t do it at all,” is present when it comes to building anything motorized.
“There’s no margin for error, so you have to do it right or it just won’t work,” he said.
The craftsman’s first Musket fired right up and is still going strong after 12,000 miles. “All the hard work paid off. The engine sounds just like that Harley I heard back in Delhi, and the Bullet is a dream to ride. The bike is light and nimble. You can flick it about like a dirt bike.”
As with anything that’s hand-made, the Musket V-twin costs more than a stock, off-the-shelf motor. It’s a niche market, but Vardhan estimates there are probably a few hundred-thousand Bullets out there. There’s a lot of interest in his motor, both in the states and internationally.
“The visit to Jay Leno’s garage was certainly a thrill, and getting accolades from such a well-known and respected person has elevated my exposure around the globe,” he said. “I’m really excited to get up every day and see where this motor takes me.”
For more information on Aniket Vardhan and his Musket V-twin, visit musketvtwin.com, or find him on Facebook by searching The Musket V-Twin.